Classroom Modalities

Classroom Modalities

Posted on 2023-08-01


In the past 30 years the Internet has become an increasingly important part of peoples' everyday lives, and computers and smart devices are almost ubiquitous. Classrooms have evolved over the years to utilize computers where appropriate, and many classes utilize the Internet, such as through Blackboard or Canvas LMS. Sometimes figuring out a good way to leverage technology in the classroom in a useful way can be a challenge, so it can be handy to learn about different course delivery modalities.

An Overview of Course Delivery Methods

How an instructor chooses to present their course may heavily depend on the type of course delivery method chosen for their course. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses, and some lend themselves better to certain teaching styles more than others.

For an overview of the course delivery methods that JCCC officially supports, please visit our page:

Traditional "face-to-face" classes

This course delivery style means for the students and teacher to be present in a physical space during the scheduled class times, usually once a week or more.

PROS: Students can ask questions in real-time, teacher can illustrate points in person, examples could be given with physical objects.

CONS: May not be accessible to students with disabilities or students with restrictive schedules, such as a work schedule to maintain.

Online asynchronous classes

This is the more traditional meaning of an "online-only" class, where coursework is presented via an online Learning Management System (LMS), but there is not a scheduled course time for students and the teacher to meet.

PROS: Offers students more flexibility to tackle coursework on their own schedule. Accessible to students who have difficulty accessing transportation.

CONS: Students have to be able to self-direct and manage their workload. Presentation of new material may not fit student learning style. Asking questions generally has a delayed response.

Online synchronous classes

This format became more widely used during the quarantine times of 2020-2021. Coursework is presented online, but the synchronous part refers to there being regularly scheduled class times for the students and teacher, though class time is given remotely, such as via Zoom.

PROS: Offers more flexibility than a "face-to-face" course while still providing ability to talk directly to the instructor.

CONS: Students still have to do a lot of work on their own outside of class time. Students have to make sure they are at a location with internet access during the scheduled class time.

Hybrid classes

For our college, Hybrid classes traditionally meant the classes were "face-to-face", but also utilized a Learning Management System to give assignments and track grades.

PROS: Generally the same as "face-to-face" courses, but with being able to track assignments and course progress online.

CONS: Generally the same as "face-to-face" courses.

HyFlex classes

This format is a mix between "hybrid" classes and "online synchronous" classes in that the course has a regularly scheduled class time for the students and teachers to meet, but students have the option of being able to attend class "face-to-face" or remotely, such as via Zoom, and can change which option they use for class attendance throughout the semester.

PROS: Gives students the flexibility to choose how to attend classes, more flexible for students with transportation challenges and busy schedules. Archived course lectures, if made available, can also help students with restrictive schedules.

CONS: Not all students are in the class so coordinating group work is more difficult. Instructor has to coordinate working with a video teleconferencing system while also presenting in the classroom.

An Overview of some Teaching Strategies

In addition to how the course is delivered, the course instructor may also approach the presentation of their course and coursework in different ways. Instructors may even combine two or more presentation methods to help give a wider range of experiences to the students, which will probably give the best results. Here are a few options:

Traditional lecture classroom

The traditional lecture format is one where the instructor speaks to the topic, possibly with a presentation slide-show or with illustrating concepts on the whiteboard.

PROS: Students can ask questions immediately to clarify the topic as it's being presented.

CONS: If the lecture is too long students may lose focus. Does not give students a chance to practice the new topics while the teacher is easily available. Note taking may be inaccessible for certain students.

Demonstration classroom

For a more demonstration-style presentation the instructor will go through examples of applying the process being learned. Students can watch the steps taken to work through the assignment and then immitate it on their own.

PROS: Students get to see the steps of a process before tackling it themselves.

CONS: May not be effective for every type of topic.

Flipped / Activity-based classroom

In a traditional class usually the course material is presented to students during class time and then students work on homework outside of class. With a flipped classroom, students are expected to cover course topics independently (such as through reading a textbook or watching a video lecture) and come to class where the new ideas are put into practice.

PROS: Students get a chance to practice the topics hands-on while the teacher is available. Helps students learn how to ask questions and problem solve.

CONS: Students have to be self-motivated enough to work through the course topics prior to the class session.

Group-work classroom

Group-work in a classroom can be a good way for students to explore and learn with each other, discovering ideas independently of the instructor.

PROS: Students may feel more comfortable asking questions to peers than to the instructor. Students can utilize their groupmates to help check their work. Students learn to work as a team toward a goal.

CONS: Some of the group members may not "pull their own weight". Or, a few students may handle the entire assignment, not allowing other groupmates to get a chance to practice the topic.

Classroom Goals and Selecting a Modality

At JCCC, I teach computer science courses, which mostly includes C++ programming. As an instructor, I want to make sure the students understand the ins and outs of the language itself, but I also need to make sure they learn certain software development concepts, get hands-on practice, and are able to problem solve. For my field in particular, I feel that hands-on work is the most important part of my courses, so my courses tend to be very project-oriented.

Some goals I have for my programming classes are:

  • Students should understand terminology related to their programming language and software development.
  • Students should understand how their programming language works and why.
  • Students should learn how to read and understand program requirements.
  • Students should be able to design, implement, and test their solutions.
  • Students should utilize their debugging tools to be able to follow program flow and diagnose issues.
  • Students should be able to refer to written documentation.
  • Students should be able to document their work.
  • Students should be familiar with non-programming software development tools, such as source control with git.
  • Students should be able to peer-review each other's work and give professional constructive feedback.
  • Students should learn about the professional world, including how to find jobs, research salaries, and network with others.
  • Students should learn about ethics in computer science and be aware of design bias, safety, privacy, accessibility, and more.

Most of my courses tend to be delivered either as Online Asynchronous or HyFlex/Hybrid, with a tendency to focus class time more on solo- or group-based work for students to practice the new topics while their peers and I am available to ask questions to, while focusing on vocabulary and concepts more via the online Learning Management System assignments, such as quizzes and discussion boards.

Overall, there is no single "correct" way to teach a course. The most effective course is going to depend on the individual teacher's strengths, the topic they're teaching, the difficulty of the coursework, and more.

Serving a Wide Range of Students

One of my core goals as an instructor is to make my courses accessible. Often, college and university courses are tailored to serve a "traditional student" - usually a student who is young, does not need to work full-time, has no dependents, and no accessibility needs. Colleges and universities provide an Access Services department to help students get accomodations for certain things, but this is only one axis on which a student may fall on.

So few people are "traditional students", even for those who are coming to college straight out of high school. Additionally, as an instructor serving a community college, we purposefully also are dedicated to serving our community and the non-traditional students in the community. This means we have many students of any age, from many different countries and cultures, with many different religious backgrounds, orientations, identities, who are in many different "tax-brackets", so to speak.

Many of our students must work full-time or multiple jobs to pay the bills, but are investing in furthering their education with us. Many of our students have dependents, whether that is their children, taking care of elderly family, or other situations. Many of our students have disibilities, whether they're "visible" or "invisible". Many of our students just don't mesh well with the "traditional face-to-face" model. And many students go through various life events throughout the semester, including family deaths, divorce, job loss, sickness, accidents, and all sorts of other things.

As an instructor, I do not need or want my students to have to justify themselves to me. My job is to help guide my students to learn what they need in a way that accomodates each of them on an individual level, as much as I can. I genuinely believe that almost everybody is trying their best, and I try to give them the same grace that I would like to receive myself when I'm falling behind on grading, or a little late to responding to emails, or otherwise going through a rough time.

Additionally, software development curriculum in particular is very much focused on preparing students with skills that directly translate to potential jobs, and many students in our programs are training for a second career, or for additional training in the field.

With all this in mind, a big goal of my course structure is flexibility. I generally prefer "HyFlex" delivery with "flipped-classroom"-based course design because students can choose their own way of engaging with the course that best fits their life.

Of course, each instructor has to make their own decisions on what delivery method and classroom style works best for them and their students. There are many different departments and courses out there, and there is no "one size fits all".


Being at a community college means that we have a wide array of students from different backgrounds. As an instructor, we have the creative challenge of figuring out what course delivery method and classroom style works best for us, the topics we teach, and the students we serve. There are a lot of aspects to consider, but also lots of resources out there to learn from and be inspired by.